Friday's other big summit: Why the Modi-Xi meeting matters

While the highly anticipated inter-Korean summit will capture much of the world's attention Friday, ...

Posted: Apr 27, 2018 11:08 AM
Updated: Apr 27, 2018 11:08 AM

While the highly anticipated inter-Korean summit will capture much of the world's attention Friday, another equally consequential meeting will unfold in China on the same day, the outcome of which could affect more than a third of the world's population.

Billed as an "informal" summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping will host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the central city of Wuhan on Friday and Saturday, the clearest sign yet of thawing relations between the two estranged nuclear powers, following last summer's tense military stand-off in the disputed border region of the India-China-Bhutan "trijunction."

Unlike a more traditional state visit, the casual setting appears specifically calculated to avoid potentially complex policy negotiations and instead provide the two leaders, whose countries comprise more than 2.6 billion people and 17.6% of the global economy, an opportunity to clear the air.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, former Indian Foreign-Secretary S Jaishankar described the surprise meeting as having no stated goals or set agenda. Conversations, suggested Jaishankar, will be "personal and interactive."

But can the two strongmen leaders put aside their countries' differences and get along?

For Modi, the benefits of stabilizing relations with China are clear. Unlike his Chinese counterpart, the Indian prime minister is gearing up for reelection next year. Though Modi remains overwhelmingly popular among voters, a potentially bruising encounter with China, especially one that involves the two countries' armed forces, could see his poll numbers dented. By meeting with Xi, Modi can both help to mitigate that risk, while simultaneously opening up the possibility of increased economic cooperation at a time of global uncertainty.

For Xi, the summit comes just months after term limits on the Chinese presidency were removed by the country's rubber-stamp parliament, effectively allowing him to govern for life if he chooses. Xi's consolidation of power clears the way for him to embark on a bold new period of statesmanship. The prospect, however unlikely, of the region's two major powers agreeing to join forces, would signal a significant geopolitical shift and the type of major policy win befitting Xi's new status.

That Xi is receiving Modi on the same day as the leaders of North and South Koreas hold talks has raised eyebrows, but analysts view the timing as coincidental and not meant to overshadow the inter-Korean summit, especially considering the difficulties in scheduling and preparing for meetings between any senior leaders.

"Xi has had his meeting with (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un," said Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director for Asia at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), suggesting people not read too much into the timing "given that the Chinese side has lined up its ducks when it comes to the coming Korean summit, and India is only tangentially interested and involved in the Korean situation at best."

'Unprecedented changes'

"As the leaders of the two largest developing countries, they feel that the two countries need to communicate in great depth on some long-term, comprehensive and strategic issues embedded in bilateral relations and international affairs," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Tuesday.

It's no coincidence that Lu chose to underscore that the meeting, the Indian Prime Minister's fourth in China, would take place "in the face of unprecedented changes in the world today."

A trade war currently looms large over China and the United States. And while India has found itself courted by the US as part of President Donald Trump's new "free and open Indo-Pacific" strategy, the growing threat of US protectionism hangs over the Indian economy, too.

As a result, improving weak economic ties are likely to be a top priority within any attempt to reset bilateral relations.

Although China is India's largest trading partner, their $84 billion bilateral trade last year was a mere fraction of the US-China trade volume, which stood almost $600 billion.

"Realistically, China's exports to India are not going to offset any impact that might have come from a China-US trade war," said Innes-Ker.

But that doesn't mean it's not important. Pointing to an effective ban on Chinese telecom giant ZTE in the US market recently enacted by Washington, Innes-Ker said China is taking the risk of rising trade tensions with the US seriously.

"China needs access to the India market, where the Indian government has been slapping tariffs on them and imposing non-tariff barriers," he said. "It's in China's interest to get these economic issues resolved."

India too will be looking to reduce its reliance on the US, suggest analysts, who point to Trump's increasingly aggressive trade policies as a source of growing concern within Indian economic circles.

"If you're not friendly with China, the US -- especially under Trump -- will finish you off and give you a very bad bargain," said Madhav Das Nalapat, director of the geopolitics department at Manipal University in India. "If you're not friendly with the US, China will roll over you."

"So if you want a healthy relationship with China or the US, you need healthy relations with both," he added. "We need the US on security and China for commerce and trade."

Major strategic divergences

Both countries boast ancient civilizations and centuries-old ties. But in recent years, China and India have had a rocky relationship. Last summer's Himalayan standoff was the latest in a long-running series of territorial flare-ups between the two nuclear powered neighbors. In 1962, the two countries engaged in a bloody border war, and skirmishes have continued to break out sporadically in the decades since.

Other longtime sore points between the two governments include China's ardent backing of Pakistan, India's arch rival, and New Delhi's sheltering of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing considers a separatist traitor.

Economic and strategic competition between China -- a Communist-ruled one-party state -- and India -- the world's largest democracy -- has also intensified in the past few years as Beijing began to expand its influence in India's traditional backyard, especially with the launch of Xi's ambitious "Belt and Road" global trade plan.

Recent moves that have aroused strong suspicion in India range from China's taking control of a major port in Sri Lanka and signing of groundbreaking trade deals with Nepal, to its navy conducting anti-piracy operations in the western Indian Ocean.

At a press conference in March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the two countries' leaders "have developed a strategic vision for the future of our relations: the Chinese 'dragon' and the Indian 'elephant' must not fight each other, but dance with each other."

Analysts appear divided on such a prospect under two strong nationalistic leaders, even though many see the two men get along well at a personal level despite the vastly different political systems of their countries.

"This is a recognition of both leaders that India and China are going to have to work together in order to make the 21st Century the Asian century," said Nalapat, the Indian professor. "The Asian century, frankly, is at the core of this summit."

"They are going to work hard on creating a very strong relationship, on creating oxygen that can pour down and help solve problems at the lower level," he added.

"There is a huge difference between having a relatively positive personal relationship and having a productive strategic relationship," said Innes-Ker of the EIU.

"The underlying story is that this remains an antagonistic relationship and the strategic tensions will far outweigh any common ground that they find between each other."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 36578

Reported Deaths: 2258
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion10188604
Lake3876207
Allen181071
Cass15919
Elkhart158528
St. Joseph135838
Hendricks120478
Hamilton119194
Johnson1125113
Madison60061
Porter56233
Clark53942
Bartholomew53139
LaPorte44824
Howard44236
Tippecanoe4344
Jackson4012
Delaware39741
Shelby39722
Hancock35427
Boone32436
Floyd31941
Vanderburgh2913
Morgan28626
Noble27821
Montgomery24917
Clinton2471
White2399
Decatur23132
Grant22923
Dubois2113
Kosciusko2052
Harrison19622
Marshall1872
Henry18512
Vigo1828
Greene17226
Dearborn17122
Monroe17113
Lawrence17124
Warrick16729
Miami1461
Putnam1427
Jennings1324
Orange13122
LaGrange1282
Scott1263
Franklin1168
Ripley1086
Daviess10416
Carroll952
Wayne906
Steuben902
Wabash812
Newton8010
Fayette797
Jasper741
Jay580
Clay533
Randolph523
Rush513
Fulton511
Washington501
Pulaski500
Jefferson491
Whitley453
DeKalb451
Starke423
Perry390
Huntington382
Sullivan371
Wells350
Owen341
Brown331
Benton320
Knox310
Blackford272
Tipton261
Crawford250
Adams231
Switzerland220
Spencer221
Fountain222
Gibson202
Parke180
Posey160
Martin140
Warren131
Ohio130
Vermillion100
Union100
Pike60
Unassigned0180

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 125915

Reported Deaths: 5795
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook813443880
Lake8647334
DuPage7997394
Kane6672205
Will5799285
Winnebago246566
McHenry167779
St. Clair126292
Kankakee98954
Kendall83919
Rock Island70325
Champaign6777
Madison62465
Boone49817
DeKalb4508
Sangamon36029
Peoria30111
Jackson30010
Randolph2734
McLean22613
Ogle2253
Stephenson2115
Macon20020
Clinton19017
Union17114
LaSalle16016
Whiteside14913
Coles13817
Iroquois1355
Warren1220
Out of IL1161
Grundy1112
Knox1020
Jefferson10116
Monroe10012
McDonough9113
Unassigned900
Lee821
Tazewell815
Cass760
Williamson753
Henry700
Pulaski580
Marion520
Jasper467
Macoupin462
Adams441
Morgan421
Perry420
Vermilion421
Montgomery411
Livingston362
Christian354
Jo Daviess321
Douglas280
Jersey241
Menard220
Bureau211
Fayette213
Ford211
Woodford212
Washington190
Mason180
Mercer180
Carroll172
Hancock171
Shelby161
Alexander140
Schuyler130
Bond121
Franklin120
Fulton120
Moultrie120
Clark110
Crawford110
Johnson110
Logan110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Wayne91
Effingham81
Henderson80
Massac70
Saline70
Greene60
Wabash60
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland40
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 60°
Robinson
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 62°
Indianapolis
Few Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 61°
Rockville
Clear
56° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 56°
Casey
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 62°
Brazil
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 60°
Marshall
Clear
60° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 60°
Mostly sunny and hot
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

Art honors Hoosier pilot

Image

Protesters gather for change

Image

Free Fishing Weekend

Image

First outdoor market of summer in Terre Haute

Image

Individual diploma presentations

Image

Protesters demand justice for George Floyd

Image

1 injured in ATV accident

Image

Saturday Morning Forecast Update

Image

Umpires

Image

The Salvation Army and the historic origins of National Donut Day

WTHI Events